As I recently mentioned, NYMF is right on the horizon, starting in July this year instead of in the fall like years past. There are 21 full productions gracing NYMF stages this year, in addition to other events, including readings and a Cutting Edge Composers concert (which is always a lot of fun). To keep up on all things NYMF, check out the festival's official website and follow them on Twitter.
Last year, I contacted many of the NYMF shows and conducted 5-question interviews with the writers, getting a sneak peek at how they were preparing for their productions, as well as learning more about their shows. This year, there are a ton of fantastic offerings with themes and subject matters ranging from iconic historical figures, political issues facing our country, and original material putting a new spin on how we view the modern musical. Over the next month, I'll be rolling out 5-question interviews with writers of shows in this year's festival... and today we are starting with A Letter to Harvey Milk!
A Letter to Harvey Milk is based on a short story by the same name by Lesléa Newman. With a book by Jerry James, music by Laura l. Kramer, and lyrics by Ellen M. Schwartz, this funny and touching musical explores the stories of a retired kosher butcher and young lesbian teacher and stars Leslie Kritzer and Jeff Keller. The writers shared more about their shows below:
Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?
Jerry James, Laura l. Kramer, and Ellen M. Schwartz: A Letter to Harvey Milk is a mystery story that examines the question, “What do we owe the dead?” with humor, warmth and compassion.
Me: What inspired you to write this musical?
Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: When we realized that the three of us—one a Jew, one a gay Jew and one neither—were all equally excited by Lesléa Newman’s beautiful and touching short story, with its message of the healing power of love in the midst of horror, we knew we were onto something. To paraphrase the old rye bread ad: you don’t have to be gay or Jewish to love A Letter to Harvey Milk—only human…
Me: What has it been like giving voice to such an iconic figure in politics and civil rights?
Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: Humbling and liberating. Our Harvey appears in scenes that are completely invented, and if we try to make him say or do something that rings false, something that is somehow untrue to the life and legend of Harvey Milk, we know it. Harvey lets us know. But he also urges us to say and do things we might never have thought of without him.
Me: The musical seems to take place after Harvey has died. What role does his character take on in Harry’s current story?
Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: Our musical takes place in the spring of 1986, almost eight years after the assassination of Harvey Milk. He appears only in flashbacks. But what happens in those flashbacks is central to Harry’s solving of the mystery that threatens to destroy him.
Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?
Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: To see our work—done in collaboration with our director David Schechter and our wonderful cast, headed by Jeff Keller and Leslie Kritzer—in front of an audience and to see their reaction to the qualities in the source material that inspired us to write it in the first place.
For more information, like A Letter to Harvey Milk on Facebook!